2013 Fantasy Football: Re-Evaluating Top Tight Ends After Dennis Pitta's Injury

Garrett BakerSenior Analyst IJuly 30, 2013

BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 23:  Dennis Pitta #88 of the Baltimore Ravens scores a 20-yard touchdown recpetion in the second quarter against the New England Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium on September 23, 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

In fantasy football this year, tight end is going to be an interesting position that could end up being the X-factor on a lot of people's teams. 

The group is thin this year, with a ton of average to above-average talents but only three studs. Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski and Jason Witten are relatively safe picks, and there is a significant drop-off after them.

Before the news of his season-ending injury broke, Dennis Pitta was considered by many to be one of the next tight ends for 2013, with some legitimate elite upside. 

Aaron Hernandez's departure from the NFL left the group thin, and Pitta's injury makes it one of the weakest tight end crops in recent memory. There is still value to be had, however, but it just takes some research beyond those top three.

Kyle Rudolph is an intriguing young talent, but he will be hampered by a weak passing offense. Christian Ponder is mediocre at best, and Greg Jennings is the only other receiver on the team to take attention away from Rudolph.

Heading into his third season, the 6'6" monster will look to improve on a sophomore campaign where he caught 53 passes and nine touchdowns. 

Tony Gonzalez had an unbelievable 2012 season for any receiver, let alone a 16-year veteran tight end. The 37-year-old had 93 catches for 930 yards and eight touchdowns.

With Roddy White and Julio Jones taking away a lot of pressure on the outside and down the field, Matt Ryan used Gonzalez to the fullest extent.

The only downside is obviously that he is 37 years old, and with defenses not taking him lightly at all still, there is the chance that he finally starts to break down.

Vernon Davis has shown the ability to be one of the league's best tight ends in the past, but he had a disappointing 2012 season, finishing with just 41 catches while the offense was succeeding without him.

Davis had six catches in the team's last six games of the regular season, all with Colin Kaepernick as the quarterback, which should be a major red flag. He is still undeniably talented however, and without Michael Crabtree there will be more passes to go around.

Greg Olsen quietly finished as the sixth-best fantasy tight end in 2012, posting 69 catches for 843 yards and five touchdowns.

It would be surprising if he surpassed those totals in 2013, but he's a solid all-around tight end who should benefit from Cam Newton's continued growth as a quarterback.

A possible sleeper heading into 2012 who finished outside the top 20 in fantasy points for tight ends, Jared Cook is now reunited with his old coach Jeff Fisher in St. Louis and is a sleeper once again.

There's not much to dislike about Cook when you watch him play. He's an athletic, 6'5" playmaker who can be dangerous anywhere on the field.

But he's never caught more than 49 passes in his four-year career and has just three red-zone touchdown catches in those four seasons. There are finally weapons in St. Louis for Sam Bradford, but whether they can all contribute together is far from guaranteed.

Lastly, you cannot make a list of potential top tight ends without Antonio Gates. The former undrafted free agent has been one of the best receiving tight ends in the NFL over the past decade.

He has missed 10 games in the past three seasons, however, and you have to wonder if he's lost a step. But the Chargers aren't set at receiver and don't have a big running game, so Gates could see a lot of targets again if he stays on the field.

The drop-off may be significant from the top three to this second tier, but more than anything it reinforces that you should wait on tight ends in your draft and try to get value.

There could also be some late-round sleepers who end up contributing as much as any of these guys. Dustin Keller, Robert Housler and Pitta's replacement, Ed Dickson, all come to mind.